Of course I went to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day. I made the trek out to the Emerald Isle with four boys to kick off my spring break week to celebrate what the Irish call “Paddy’s” in Galway. After a rough (but cheap!) night of sleeping on the floor at the London-Stansted airport, we arrived in Cork, Ireland. There isn’t much to do in Cork besides a few whiskey factory tours, but the town of Blarney is just a 20-minute bus ride away. Blarney is home to the Blarney Castle, which is home to the legendary Blarney Stone. We figured we probably wouldn’t be back to the Cork/Blarney area any time soon, so we decided to head to the castle to see if we could get the gift of gab.
The castle and its surrounding gardens were fun to roam, but we quickly scuttled up the narrow spiral staircase to the famous stone on the top floor. Over 350,000 people kiss the stone each year, so here’s the beginner’s guide. To kiss the stone, you have to get down on the ground, lay on your back, hang your head down a hole between the castle wall and the floor, and grab on to some conveniently-located iron bars. Once you plant one on the shiny stone, the nice old man who has been holding your legs helps you up. His co-worker with the camera gives you a numbered and bar-coded receipt so you can purchase a souvenir photo at the exit. Then you can go down the windy stairs, laugh at the unflattering picture they snapped of you dangling upside down with your face smashed into a rock, and leave the castle satisfied as you check “Kiss Blarney Stone” off your list forever.
Consider it checked.
After some post-Blarney Stone, pre-lunch Guinnesses, we hopped on a bus to Galway. We checked out the high street and pub district, but we were so exhausted from our night of not sleeping in London that we were all back at the hotel and asleep by 10:30 p.m.
On Thursday, we got up early, not to drink (as is the Notre Dame tradition) but to catch our bus tour out to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. The tour took most of the day, but it was a great way to see the Irish countryside. We drove by lots of cemeteries with Celtic crosses, lots of castles, lots of potato famine ruins, and lots of sheep.
It goes without saying that we went straight to the pubs when the tour bus returned to Galway at 5:30, but we fortified ourselves with a not-so-festive meal from McDonald’s before the celebrations commenced.
Galway was a pretty little town, but when you go to Ireland for Paddy’s Day, you do so to go to the pubs. We didn’t have time to see much more of the city than the downtown area, but I liked what I saw. The pubs fully met my expectations – full of people of all ages clinking pint glasses and listening to Irish bands. The pubs had character all right, but it didn’t come from the décor or the music. No, it came from the so-cliché-you-can’t-believe-it patrons, like the gaggle of jersey-clad, buzz-cut rugby fans or the white-haired man at the bar balancing a fedora on his knee. I danced to “Galway Girl” with a guy who spun and twirled me around. Best of all was the pregnant lady chatting with her friend and balancing a Guinness on her belly. At least it was only a half pint.